Korea scores poorly on OECD lifestyle report

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Korea scores poorly on OECD lifestyle report

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development index shows that overall living conditions in Korea improved over the past year, but they still fall short of several OECD averages.

According to the OECD’s annual Better Life Index released early this week, which evaluates living conditions in all 34 member countries as well as Russia and Brazil, Korea received better or equal scores in all 11 categories compared to 2013, except for the work-life balance index, which dropped one rank among the 36 countries.

The 11 categories range from housing to income levels, employment and life satisfaction.

Only 23 percent of Koreans appeared to trust their government, a lot lower than the OECD average of 39 percent. At the same time, Koreans were highly interested in engaging in politics. Referring to the 2012 presidential election, the OECD said the country demonstrated a 75.8 percent voter turnout, higher than the OECD average of 72 percent for national elections.

Korea’s disposable income per capita after taxes and money transfers was only $18,035 a year, ranking it 26th of 36 countries, behind Greece and Portugal. The OECD average was $23,938.

People with highest 20 percent income level earned six times more than the bottom 20 percent of the population. Korea ranked 22nd for income inequality, followed by countries including Russia, Japan and the U.S.

Despite the current administration’s effort to work toward a 70 percent overall employment rate, only 64 percent of employable people between the ages of 15 and 64 had a paid job according to the OECD stats, slightly below the OECD employment average of 65 percent. While the government is trying to boost the overall employment rate by encouraging the hiring of more women and older people, only 53 percent of Korean women participated in the labor market, the OECD said, lower than the its 57 percent average.

Koreans who had jobs worked long hours at them. Last year, they worked an average of 2,090 hours a year, compared to the OECD average of 1,765 hours, which led Korea to rank 34 out of 36 countries in work-life balance. Only Mexico and Turkey were below it in the ranking. Last year it ranked 33rd.

“[Finding a suitable balance between work and life] is a challenge to governments,” the report said, “because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.”

Koreans spent up to 20 percent of their time doing household chores, with the tasks mostly left to women. Men spent more time doing paid work at workplaces. Korean men last year spent 45 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring for children, less than a half the OECD average of 141 minutes. Korean women spent 227 minutes.

Koreans of both sexes spent 14.6 hours per day eating, sleeping and socializing, giving it a rank of 25 out of 36.

The report explained that Korean workplace culture requires long working hours and corporate socializing after work, leaving little time for parents to balance work and family life. This contributes to low fertility rates, it said.

It said Korea has the OECD’s lowest expenditure on family welfare.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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